Which Side of the Cross?
Meditations on the Cross

Gary Combs ·
March 24, 2024 · Christ, cross · Luke 23:32-46 · Notes


Although Christ entered Jerusalem on a Sunday to adoring crowds waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9), Christ exited Jerusalem on a Friday to an angry crowd shaking their fists and yelling, “Crucify him!” The crowds in Jerusalem were divided in their response to Jesus. They had different views of Jesus and took different sides. The message of Christ and His cross still divides people today. It still calls people to choose sides.

You and I weren’t in Jerusalem when Jesus made his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago. Nor were we there when He was hung on a cross between two criminals. We may not have been there, but the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross calls all of us to answer: “Which side of the cross are you on?”

In the gospel according to Luke, he recorded that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one on the right side and one on the left side. They were both criminals facing death, both seeing and hearing how Jesus faced death. Yet they chose different views of the cross of Christ. They chose different sides. We are faced with the same choice. Which side of the cross will you choose?


It is great to see all of you here on this Palm Sunday, the day of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, 2000 years ago! That's why we gather here on this Sunday, to remember what Christ has done. We're continuing our series entitled, "Meditations on the Cross." Today's question that we'll be working out, that we'll be answering together, is "Which Side of the Cross?" Which side of the cross are you on?

You know, people take sides on things during this particular month, especially. I'm looking around the room. I'm not seeing a lot of bright colors. I was looking to see if I'd see any red in here this morning. Okay, you've got it hidden.

I don't see it from here, Betty, but there's a little bit of red. We've got all three of our North Carolina teams still in the running for March madness.If you're not from North Carolina, you don't understand what's going on right now, but, March Madness is a big deal.

I'm a "transplant" here, but I've been here long enough to know about March Madness. UNC and NC State are  in the "Sweet 16." Duke's playing later on today. I'm just glad you all came to church because people take sides. I'm not going to take a side on this issue; I want to try to stay friends with as many of you as I can.

Whenever we first moved here, where we live, our kids ended up going to Fike high school. When my two sons played football at Fike, we made sure we sat on the 50 yard line, on the home side, right? We sat with the other parents that were cheering their kids on; we tried to wear the right colors and everything. We got to know which side we were on.

Then, when our daughter, Erin, became a cheerleader, we had to move over to where we could see the cheerleaders, right? That was a new thing that we had to now. I don't know if you know anything about Fike high school.

Fike high school has kind of a "blasphemous"  kind of name. They're the "Golden Demons;" all of my kids went there. My daughter would be leading these cheers, "Get on the demon train." I would be up there cheering along with her until it came to that cheer. Not in the name of Jesus was I getting on that demon train. I'd pull for Fike  other than the demon train cheer; I wasn't getting on the demon train. You have to know which side you stand on, right?

Some years later, a dear friend of mine and church member, Jeff, had season tickets to ECU football games and  His dad had season tickets, too. They would go over and spend the whole day at ECU.  One particular weekend, his dad couldn't go and Jeff asked me, 'Hey, pastor, do you want to use my dad's ticket? We'll go spend the whole day.'

We hung out, did the tail gate and everything. Then, we go and sit in the Pirate club. He made sure that I wore  purple or gold. He didn't want me to show up in the wrong color of shirt. I did good. I got the right shirt.

We go to the football game; we had a great time tailgating and everything. We go in and we take our seats.  Everybody in the Pirate club has season tickets. I feel like I'm doing good.

I've got something to drink. I've got some peanuts and we're enjoying the game. Then, some things start happening. See, this is before I got trained. All three of my kids end up going to ECU, but I hadn't been trained in proper cultural etiquette yet at this point. All of a sudden, ECU got a "first down."

Now on the 20 yard line, when it's a first down, the announcer would pause. Everyone in all of the stands in the Pirate club would stand up and go, "Pirates!" when it's a first down. "Pirates!"

They would  all stand up, except I didn't stand up. I almost spilled my drink. What's going on? This happened a couple of times. Finally, about the third time, I noticed people in the Pirate club were all looking at me. Jeff, you brought some outsider here in the Pirate club. So, Jeff leans over to me, with a whispering voice and says,  "Pastor, look, if you ever want me to bring you to one of these games again, you had better start standing up and saying, "Pirates!" when we get a first down. He said, "You have to know which side that you're on, right?" So, I finally got the training. I understood how to do that.

I don't know if you saw the movie, "The Lord of the Rings." There's a situation in "The Lord of the Rings," where two of the Hobbits are in this forest were these talking trees, called “treebeards.”

It was a time when these talking trees were in denial about what was happening in the story, so Pippen, one of the Hobbits, is being carried along by this talking tree named Treebeard. Pippen asks the tree, "Whose side are you on?" The treebeard said, "Side? I'm on nobody's side because nobody is on my side."

The treeboard didn't realize that there was trouble coming and so he thought he could stay neutral. But, there comes a point, as he soon found out, that you have to choose a side.

Two thousand years ago on Palm Sunday, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to the shouting of adoring crowds, waving palm branches and saying, "Hosanna, Hosanna, this is the son of David coming!" But, several people in that same crowd, that same fickled crowd, by the end of passion week on that Friday, were no longer adoring Him. They were an angry crowd, shaking their fists and shouting, "Crucify him. Crucify him!"

You see, they had switched sides, many of them. They've been confused about which side of Jesus they were on. It's important that we choose that today. That's the question today, "Which side of the cross are you on?"

We're going to be looking in the book of Luke, chapter 23, where we read about how Jesus was crucified between two thieves. The worship team just led us in a song, helping us picture what it would have been like to be one of those criminals crucified next to Jesus. As we consider these two criminals, we see that they choose sides on how they're going to respond to the message of the cross. I believe, as we consider this, we'll see how we're brought to a place of decision ourselves. Let's look at the text.

We are in Luke, chapter 23, picking up at verse 32, "Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”

36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” This is God's word. Amen.

We're looking for three views of the cross of Christ. The first view is:

1. The TRAGEDY of the cross.

We're looking at it from the side of the criminal who made the decision to reject Jesus. Looking at it from that side, the cross becomes a tragic scene, a sad scene, a broken scene of suffering.

You see, there were two criminals.The gospels tell us that there was one on the right and one on the left. One criminal makes a decision to stay in his condition, to stay in his sin, facing death. He is on the same hill, crucified beside the same Lord. Indeed, as we read the other gospels, the book of Matthew actually reports in Matthew, chapter 27, that both criminals started out mocking Jesus. One continued, but one has a change of heart.

Let us first consider the one who continued in his mocking, the one who continued to pour out bitterness, because the state of his soul was one of bitterness. Even as he died, he died in bitterness. It's a sad story. It's a tragic story.

When we look at the cross from this view, it looks like Jesus was defeated. It looks like Jesus got caught up in a political mess and He was defeated. That's not the story, but that's the way it must look like from this particular thief's perspective. Matthew actually called them "thieves."

Matthew called them "robbers."  Luke reports that they were "criminals." Another translation says "malefactors," literally evildoers, in the Greek. It has the idea that they were habitual criminals, that they were repeat offenders. We are all just like the two criminals on either side of the cross. We are all sinners.

We are all repeat offenders. We are all facing a death penalty apart from God. May I give you three reasons why this was a particular tragedy for the criminal who rejects Jesus? May I, also, say to you that the story of the cross, this story that we're talking about this palm Sunday, the good story, the gospel story, it's not a good story for you if you reject it. It's a tragic story for you if you reject it. It's a tragedy for those who reject the Good News about Jesus' death on the cross.

Here's the first reason why this is a tragedy: It's because he refused to believe that Jesus was Lord. He refused to believe. Do you see in verse 39 that it says, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Save Yourself and us? You might say what sounds like he asked Jesus to save him. No, you're not getting it. You're not understanding the mode of his language here. The word "railed" is here in the ESV.

Let's see if you can guess what that word is in the Greek. I will say the greek word for you. See if you can guess what this word translated, "railed," is. It's "blasphēmeō" in the Greek. Does that sound familiar, that word, "blasphēmeō" in the Greek?

Yes, it's the word "blasphemed." He "blasphemes" the Lord. The criminal is mocking Jesus. As he hangs on the cross, dying, his bitterness pours forth from his mouth, "If you're really the Messiah, really the Christ, save yourself and save us, too." He doesn't really mean it.

He's saying the words, but he doesn't mean it. He refused to believe that Jesus was Lord. He joined the other accusers. As we read in verse 35, we see the Jewish leaders were mocking Him. They stood by watching and scoffing.

"He saved others. Let him save himself if he's really the Christ, the son of God." They're mocking Him. Even the Roman soldiers were mocking Him in verses 34 through 38.

The Roman soldiers were gambling over His garments. They've stripped Him naked. They're mocking Him. Verses 36 and 37 say that if you're the king of the Jews, save yourself.

Then, in verse 38, it says that there was an inscription over His head. We've seen the pictures, right? But, it wasn't just Jesus that would have had that. All of the criminals would have had an inscription. It would state the reason for which they were being condemned. There would be a sign up there saying that  this is why this man is hanging on the cross.

Now, we read in the book of John, chapter 19, that it was written like this, John 19:20 (NKJV) "Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin."

Pop that back up again. This is a reproduction of what it might have looked like. The top row would have been in Hebrew, the second row in Latin, and the third row in Greek. All of these languages would say, "This is the king of the Jews." That really ticked off the Jewish authorities.

They went to Pilate when they saw that sign. They said to Pilate, 'It  shouldn't say that. It should say, "He claimed to be the king of the Jews." The gospel says that  Pilate said back to them, "What I've written, I've written." He kind of poked them in the eye with that, as if to say, Look, you tricked me into this. I didn't want to crucify this man. In fact, my wife told me she had a nightmare about this, that I should not go near this innocent man, that I should release him. But I gave him over to you to be crucified.

So, Pilate puts the inscription on there. Ironically, it's true. Ironically, Jesus is being crucified because He is the king.

But yet, this criminal rails at Him. He blasphemes Him. The Jewish leaders blaspheme Him. The Roman authorities blaspheme and mock Him. They refuse to believe.

Here's the second reason why it's a tragedy: It's because he remained in his sin. Here, he hangs on the cross next to the One who could deliver him. He decides to stay in his condition. He remains in his sin.

The criminal was asked by the other criminal. It's a strange story, if you think about it. We've heard it so often, we forget how unusual it is. But, here hangs Jesus in the middle with these two criminals and one is mocking Him.

According to Matthew, the other criminal who had been mocking Him has a change of heart. He begins to argue with  and rebuke the other one. He says to him, in verse 40 "... “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

He begins to rebuke the other criminal. 'Don't you fear God?' But, the criminal remained in his sin. Notice, that Jesus says nothing.

This is the third reason that it is a tragedy:  He received no answer from Jesus. This man says, 'If you're really the son of God, if you're the Christ, save us and save yourself.'

Jesus didn't say one word to this criminal. He didn't say anything to the Jewish leaders that mocked Him. He didn't say anything to the Roman soldiers that mocked Him. He didn't say anything to the criminal who mocked Him. This man received no answer from Jesus.

In Isaiah 59:2 (NIV), we read this, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” In another place in Isaiah, it says, Isaiah 53:7 (ESV) "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." He was silent before them. He didn't say a word.

The only word He said was a word He said to His father as they mocked Him. He said in verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is our Jesus.

This is the Christ crucified. This is the tragedy of the one who didn't hear Him say this - 'Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.' In 1 Corinthians, chapter one, we can see that this criminal did not see the reality. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NLT) "I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God."

To him, the cross was foolishness. It was bitterness. It was tragedy.

It was a "double tragedy," if you will. In literature, this is called a "double tragedy."  It was already tragic that he's being crucified. That's tragedy enough, that's sorrow enough. But that he's being crucified beside the One who could save him, and he denies it.

That's a "double tragedy." We see this throughout literature. Shakespeare was famous for writing stories with a "double tragedy." "Romeo and Juliet" is one. I don't want to ruin it for you if you've never read Romeo and Juliet. So.  just plug your ears for a second.

At the end of the story of Romeo and Juliet, it's a "double tragedy," because Romeo gets word that Juliet is dead, and so, he kills himself. But, she wasn't dead. Then, she finds out that he is actually dead, so she kills herself. Now, that's called a "double tragedy." But, there's a worse tragedy; it's this tragedy that this man, who was sinful and dying, was facing an eternity without God. The man right next to him was Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God. With a word, he could have turned to Jesus  and said, 'I'm a sinner. Would You save me?' and he would have been saved.

It's a double tragedy for this man, and it's a double tragedy for you, too, having heard the gospel and you turn away from it. It's a double tragedy because you heard the truth, yet you rejected it. This is the first view of the cross of Christ. It can be a tragedy for those who reject it.

Here's the second view:

2. The TRIUMPH of the cross.

For the other criminal, the cross which led to his physical death actually became a triumph for him. The man on the other side of the cross. As we have said earlier, in Matthew 27:44, it says that both of the criminals were reviling Him at first.

They were both blaspheming and mocking at first. But, somewhere along the line, there was a change of heart in this particular criminal. I wonder what happened. Perhaps this criminal, before he was arrested, heard Jesus at some point. Maybe he'd been out there, picking pockets or something, in the crowd when he was hearing Jesus.

He had some awareness of Jesus. It seems obvious he knew something about Him. Maybe he heard them talking about Him while he was imprisoned and he was hearing them talk about this One.

This is a strange story. This man's never done anything wrong. Why are they crucifying him? Maybe that was it, or maybe it was,  just hanging on the cross, he had a heart change because he heard the words of Jesus.

As we read all four Gospels together, there are seven last sayings of Jesus. We have three of them recorded right here in Luke's gospel; there are three of His last seven sayings here. Maybe this criminal is listening and he sees how everyone's mocking Jesus, including himself. He starts off that way, too. But then he hears Jesus say, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing," and something breaks in his heart. Something clicks.

The spirit of God touches him. He hears the "knock on the door."  All of a sudden, he comes to his senses as he's hanging there, he rebukes the one criminal who is still mocking Jesus.

Let me give you three reasons why this man was accepted by Jesus. Let's just think about it for a second. First of all, he admitted he was a sinner. Look at verse 40,...“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?"

He's talking to the other criminal and here's what he says, 'We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. I know I deserve this. I had this coming.'

He's not in denial. He's clearly thinking this out. I'm a sinner, too. He admitted he was a sinner.This is the first reason: he has accepted that he is a sinner. You see, that's where we all have to get to.

In my community group a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about this idea of getting an opportunity to share the message of the cross with people, to talk to people about what Jesus did for them on the cross. I asked, "How's that going for you when you're talking to your friends or family about the gospel?" One of our members said, "Usually when I get to this part of the story, I have several friends that will say to me something like this." They'll say, "Well, I'm not that bad. I don't really get this whole thing about being a sinner. I feel like I'm as good as the next person." You know what? They're right. They are as good as the next person.

Both thieves were just as good as the other one. Both criminals were just as good as the other one. They both fell far short from the goodness of God, from the righteousness of God. See, this is the difficulty.

This other criminal, though, was clear-eyed about it. He admits that he had this coming. He is being  punished justly. He admits that he is a sinner. Then in verse 41, he acknowledged Jesus as sinless, "And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

That's the second reason that this criminal was accepted by Jesus: he acknowledged that Jesus is innocent. Look what he says in verse 41, "...this man has done nothing wrong." He recognizes that Jesus is the lamb without blemish, that He's the messiah. He say, "this man has done nothing wrong."

This criminal looks to Jesus; this man is deserving of being a Savior. He is innocent. Then, he doesn't leave it there. In verse 42, he asks Jesus to save him. He asks Him to save him.

He call on Jesus by name. He calls on Him by name. He says, in verse 42, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He calls on the name of Jesus.

What does Jesus mean in the Hebrew?  "Yeshua" means God's salvation. God's salvation. He calls on Jesus  and he recognizes that He's a king. He asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom.

Here, the criminal is hanging on the cross. He's clear out about this thing. He looks over at Jesus and he says, 'We deserve this, but you don't. Would You remember me when You come into your kingdom?'  He already has a sense of faith about the eternal, doesn't he?

He already sees that there's more than meets the eye. What has happened to this man? He's been touched by the Savior. He's hanging on the cross. He's at death's door, but he's clear eyed about what he needs.

He asked Jesus to save  him. Jesus says to him, in verse 43, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Truly, I say to you today, not tomorrow, not next week. Today you will be with me in paradise. This is one of the most astounding statements that He says to this criminal on the cross.

'I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.' The cross of Christ has turned tragedy into triumph for this man who called on the name of Jesus. He's canceled the record of this criminal's sin.

In Colossians, Paul writes this, Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV) 13 "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him."

We all have a placard nailed over our heads, if you will, listing all of our sins. But, Paul says that all of our sins were canceled by Him dying on the cross in our place.

When you look at Jesus on the cross, what does it reveal in you? What does it reveal in you? When you look at the cross, you should recognize that it was His love that sent Him there, but it was your sins that nailed Him there. If you would be like the criminal and say, 'I deserve this, but You took it in my place. Would You remember me, Lord? Would You remember me, Jesus?'

When you look at the cross, do you see the triumph of the cross? In another gospel, we see these words from Jesus, "It is finished,"  which means paid in full. This is what leads us to the final view. We've talked about the tragedy and the triumph of the cross.

Here is the third view:

3. The TRUTH of the cross.

Jesus said to the criminal, "Truly, I say to you..."  I'm going to tell you the truth. "Truly, I say to you, today you'll be with me in paradise." The word translated, "truly," is of interest. It's the Greek word, "Amen," which is actually a Hebrew word originally. He says, "Amen," I say to you. He gives himself an amen with this one.

Jesus is going to "amen"  this up front. Amen; it's going to be so. It's going to happen today. You'll pass from this life into the next life, and you'll be with Me in paradise. You'll be with me in Heaven; that's where you will be. That's the truth of the cross.

We keep reading here; we see that Jesus finally gives His life. It says in verse 44, and following: 44 "It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last."

So, in Hebrew time, that would be around noon. They numbered their hours from sunrise. The sun comes up in Jerusalem about 06:00 a.m. So, if you count six hours forward, that's noon.

At about noon, Jesus says this to the criminal, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Then, three hours pass  and darkness has covered the whole area for these three hours until the ninth hour, which puts it about 03:00 p.m. So, there's darkness. In another gospel, Matthew reports that there was an earthquake.

Luke reports that there was this darkness. Probably as a result of this earthquake, the temple curtain was torn in two. Luke reports that in verse 45, as we're reading right here. What was significant about that this? The temple  curtain was between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple. It was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was located. It was the place that only the high priest could go once a year.

On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the high priest  had to go in the Holy of Holies with the blood of the lamb. But now, the blood of the lamb has been poured out, and there's no need for a separation between us and God the Father. We can go boldly into the throne room because of Jesus. This is the truth of what's happening on the cross.

Then, Jesus gives His final words. He calls out with a loud voice. Another gospel writer reports that He did finally drink some of the wine. He asked for something to drink. One of his statements was, "I thirst." That's one of His seven last words.

They gave Him something to drink. I think the reason He asked for it is so that he could get His tongue uncleaved from His palate, so He could have one last lifting up on the cross to catch His breath, so He could cry out as He does here, in verse 46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

As He told others, "No man take My life from Me. I lay My life down willingly." He laid down His life willingly. These are His last words.

Luke reports this and so does John, that a Roman centurion, an expert in executions, who had seen who knows how many hundreds of men and women executed, says this, in verse 47, “Certainly this man was innocent!” There was something about this man, Jesus, something about the way He faced death, something about His mercy and His forgiveness. Something about the way He talked. Something about the earthquake, the darkness and all that was happening combined together.

I think we'll see this centurion in heaven, by the way, someday. I think he believed at that very moment. Right after the criminal believed, I think he believed.  We read in another place in the book of Matthew, chapter 27, that when the centurion and those who were with him were keeping watch over Jesus, they saw the earthquake and what took place and were filled with awe. Matthew 27:54 (ESV), When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

That's the truth, isn't it? The innocent Son of God died in our place. That's the truth of the cross. That's the truth. The sinless Son of God reconciles us by His blood.

As Paul reports in Colossians 1:19-20 (ESV) "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
That is the truth of the cross. That it is the means of our salvation. Let's "walk" the truth out and apply it to ourselves for a second.

First of all, we're the two thieves in this story. Put yourself in the story. You're one of these two thieves. You're facing the same reality. The first reality you're facing is you are guilty of sin. That's the first reality.  We have come with those two thieves. We are guilty of sin.

We've broken God's law over and over again. If we haven't broken God's law in terms of action, we've broken it in terms of attitude, because sin begins with an attitude of rebellion in the heart, that says, "I'll do it myself. I'll do it my way."  We're all guilty of sin.

Romans 3:23 (NLT),  "For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." That's everyone in this room. That includes me. That includes you. We're just like the two thieves. We've all sinned.

The second reality that makes us like them is that we are also under a death sentence. We're under a death sentence apart from Jesus. It says in Romans 6:23 (NLT) "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." We're born under a death sentence because we're born into sin.This is the reality that gives us this commonality with the two thieves.

Then, finally,  we have this reality that we share with them: we must individually decide about Jesus. No one else can decide for us. We must individually decide.

Which side of the cross will you choose? Your mom and dad can't choose for you. Your brother and sister can't choose for you. You have to choose for yourself. What have you chosen?

Which side of the cross are you on? Are you on the side of tragedy,  where you are embittered and you think that  God has made your life horrible? Do you reject Him or, are you on the side of the one that says, 'I'm a sinner and I need a Savior; would You remember me, Jesus?' Which side of the cross are you on?

It's a decision. It says in Acts 4:12 (NLT) "There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Who did the thief call on? He called on Jesus.

"Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." Listen, it's not about a magic formula.

It's about aheart that says, "I believe; I believe that You are the Son of God. I ask You to come into my life and forgive me." It's more about the attitude of faith that says, "I want what You offer, Jesus. Would You remember me?" Jesus  calls on him by name.

Pastor Allistair Begg tells this story. I mentioned this story a couple of weeks ago, but I want to try to say it a little better, absent the Scottish accent, which I love about  Pastor Begg. Here's how he talks about this thief on the cross. He says, "Think about the thief on the cross.I can't wait to get with that fella one day to ask  him."

“How did that shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. You’d never been in a Bible study. You’d never got baptized. You didn’t know a thing about church membership. And yet—and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it?”

That’s what the angel must have said—you know, like, “What are you doing here?” “Well, I don’t know.” “What do you mean, you don’t know?” “Well, ’cause I don’t know.” “Well, you know… Excuse me. Let me get my supervisor.” They go get the supervisor angel: “So, we’ve just a few questions for you. First of all, are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?” The guy says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.” “And what about the doctrine of Scripture?”

This guy’s just staring. And eventually, in frustration, he says, “On what basis are you here?” And he said, “The man on the middle cross said I can come.”

Everybody thinks they're going to heaven, don't they? Everybody in our culture today think everybody's going to heaven. It's not so. Only those who have heard the Man on the middle cross say, 'You can come,' will enter heaven.

This criminal was the only one that was going to be with Him in paradise on that day. The message of the cross is divisive. You have to choose which side you're on. Will you admit that you're a sinner, confess your sin and ask Him to save you or will you stay in your bitterness and stay in your sin and say, 'I'm good enough,' when you know you're not?

This is the only basis by which we can enter. If you're here this morning and you're a seeker, you're here because someone invited you and you've heard the story. Now, maybe you've heard it many times before, but you've been putting it off and saying, "I'm not ready to choose sides yet."  Well, today's the day of salvation. Today is the day to decide, because there comes an hour when it'll be too late to decide. Decide today to say, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

Have you ever said that? Have you ever asked Him to save you, repenting of your sins and believing? Then, for the believer, don't think you can tag out at this point and think, I know we have to talk about this. I know it's this weekend of Jewish Passover, it's the Passion week and it's the time of the palm branches. I know. I like these parts of our tradition.

No, this is not a "one and done" thing in terms of just looking  at the cross one time and then moving  on. No, we must continue to meditate on it, contemplate the meaning of it, and continually preach it afresh to ourselves. Do you know why?

Here's a couple of reasons why, believer. I'm talking to you, believer. You believe in the cross. You've admitted that you're a sinner. I'm talking to you. You still need to hear this.

Here's why. First of all, we're forgetful people. That's why Jesus gave us the Lord's Supper. It's so that we would do it in remembrance of Him. We forget. We forget that the only reason we have heaven as our future is because Jesus took our death. We need to be reminded of the payment He paid.

Here's another reason:  We're a forgetful people, but  we're also a people that tend to default to earning. We know that He saved us by grace, but we somehow think we have to keep ourselves busy by earning. Then,  when we sin again or we have a repetitive sin area, like an addiction or something like that, where it just keeps beating us up, then we fall into shame. We feel ourselves getting distance from the Lord, feeling like, 'I know that You saved me, Lord, but I'm not a good Christian."  Just think about that thief on the cross again and put yourself there.

Put yourself there on the hill called Golgotha again and hear what he says. He says to the criminal on the cross, "Truly, I say to you. Today you will be with me in paradise." It's not based on what you did. It's based on what He has done, so,  reapply the Gospel to yourself and say, "Lord, I forgot that I'm forgiven. I am forgiven, not just of my past sins, not just of my present sins, but I'm forgiven of my sins in the future. The slate is cancelled. The record of my sin is cancelled. I'm free in Jesus' Name."

Apply the message of the cross to yourself daily. Continue to take up your cross daily and follow Him, recognizing that we need to be reminded because we default into earning and judging rather than depending on grace. Paul says to us in Ephesians2:8-9 (ESV) 8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast." The man on the middle cross said you could come. That's why we have salvation. It's because of Jesus.

Do you remember the great hymn written by Robert Lowryin 1876? It goes like this. See if you recognize it:    What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus.

There's no other way of salvation except for the cross. For some, it's a tragedy. It's a "double tragedy," because you've heard it, yet, you have rejected it. It's a double tragedy. But for those of us who are being saved, it's the power of God. It's the triumph of the cross.

Where do you stand? Which side of the cross are you on?

Let's pray. Lord, I pray, first, for that person that would say, "I was on that hill.I'm a sinner. It was my sin that crucified Him. I confess it."

Would that be you today? You can pray, "Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. Would You remember me? I believe You died on the cross for me, that You were raised from the grave and that You live today. Would You come and live in me, forgive me of my sin and make me the kind of person You want me to be.I want to be a child of God. I want to follow You as my Lord and Savior."

If you'll call on the name of Jesus, He will speak to you. He will save you. He will make you born again. He will adopt you into His family.

Oh, would you do it today by faith? "Jesus, remember me. I confess my sins and I believe in You." If you're praying that prayer or faith, believing, He will save you.

Others are here, and you are a believer. You're a follower of Jesus, but you've been struggling with a repetitive sin area, maybe an addiction, maybe some unreconciled relationship that's got your heart broken. Would you hear the Gospel afresh? Would you apply the message of the cross? Holy Spirit, apply it to us afresh. Forgive us that we fall into forgetfulness.

We forget what You did, Lord. We forget the price that You paid. Sometimes, we fall into judgmental behavior or we fall into trying to earn, like keeping a list. This is not why You came. You came to pay in full for us.

Lord, forgive us as believers for forgetting to apply this message to our hearts afresh. Lord, we do it now. Oh, Lord, thank You that You saved us by Your grace.  We thank You now. In the name of Jesus. Amen.